NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project
Edited Oral History Transcript
Interviewed by Rebecca Wright
Houston, Texas – 28 November 2011
is November 29, 2011. This oral history interview is being conducted
with Nancy Fee in Houston, Texas, for the NASA Johnson Space Center
Oral History Project. Interviewer is Rebecca Wright. I really appreciate
you finding time for this interview. I know you only have a day and
a half left here at the Center [before you retire] after 45 years.
We are in Building 37 where I understand you spent most of your time.
Tell me how you first started with the Manned Spacecraft Center [original
name of JSC from 1961 to 1973] and about some of your first jobs.
Fee: My aunt
was a procurement officer. I was going to go to Lamar Tech [Lamar
Institute of Technology, Beaumont, Texas]. I had finished my senior
year of high school and I had already visited Lamar Tech, knew what
field I wanted to get into.
I missed the opportunity for a summer job, so my aunt says, “Well,
don’t worry about it, just apply for the full-time job. If you
get it, when the time to start college comes up, you can just resign.”
Needless to say since that was the 1960s, I was making pretty good
money as a secretary-stenographer—that’s what the position
was called then. Unless a woman wanted to become a teacher or a secretary
or a nurse, there were not many opportunities for women. I was told,
“You’re not going to get your job as an engineer.”
That was disillusioning, and I thought, “Well, maybe they’re
right.” So I stayed here, especially since I started off working
in the Engineering Directorate.
We were located at Ellington [Air Force Base, Houston, Texas]. I was
going nowhere in that job in the engineering area, and I decided I
wanted a change. The woman that gave me my test and hired me, Mary
Duckett, then Wilmarth, arranged for me to get an interview. She moved
me to what was the Medical Directorate. At the time, the Center had
the Science Directorate and the Medical Directorate. That was in early
’69, and I moved to Building 37. And here I am 45 years later,
in Building 37. I’ve moved four times. I think that was the
best move that I ever made, because even though you were a secretary,
they gave you more opportunities and allowed you to do more than just
plain secretarial work.
Secretarial work was grueling at the time, because we used nonelectric
typewriters, noncomputers, but everything had to be letter perfect.
In that day the secretarial field was tough. It was very strict, there
were adamant rules and procedures and you had to stick with them.
For example, everybody had to have all these different-colored carbon
copies, so if you made a little typo you were erasing for the rest
of the day. But I got to work with a bunch of interesting people—science,
medical; they had the animal lab, had fish, various research labs,
the Health Stabilization Program. They had microbiology, virology.
Gee, there were so many. This building was inundated with more labs
than what it presently has now, because a lot of them they’ve
mentioned that you felt like you wouldn’t be able to do engineering
like you had wanted. Was that something you’d wanted to study
at Lamar, to go into an engineering field?
Fee: I wanted
to be an electrical engineer; I liked to tinker with that kind of
stuff. That was why I had gone on the tour and got the list of classes.
you transferred over to Building 37 with all of the medical and life
sciences, did you find that this was a new interest for you, something
you were interested in learning?
Fee: It was.
NASA gave me every opportunity to take every class possible there
was, all the training things that came out. I took everything, even
if it wasn’t in my field. If they approved it, I went to it.
I was able to broaden my background and learn more than just the secretarial
field, instead of just staying there. That was going to be my future
growth. I took interest. I was on the Federal Women’s Program
Committee for several years, I was an Equal Employment Opportunity
counselor for several years. I got into different things.
Early on, in the early ’70s, the Center had a board which had
representatives from different federal agencies that were in the local
area. I got to become a representative in that. I think that’s
when I learned that I liked the safety aspect. I just got my feet
wet with all kinds of different things in order for me to say, “Okay,
this is what I want to do.” Of course it gave me an opportunity
to meet a lot of different people, and learn the other directorates,
so it was interesting.
this was an interesting time as far as women were concerned. The shape
of women’s futures was starting to change in the mid to late
’70s with an awareness for new opportunities for women, the
women’s movement. You mentioned you were on some of those programs.
Were those some of the issues that you were tackling trying to open
People in the generation now do not understand. They have so many
opportunities that I didn’t have. If you were female back in
the ’60s, even early ’70s, and before that, there was
not much unless you wanted to sit there and battle and battle and
Now the floodgate has been opened, and they are even and equal to
everything. I think NASA even started that before some of the outside
world. As far as diversity, NASA was number one, starting out of the
gate, versus the outside industry. The government has always been
very good about that, I have no qualms about [working for] the government.
The government has done a lot for me, it has given me a lot of opportunities.
Whenever I’ve come across a stumbling block or a problem, I’ve
been able to go to somebody. They’ve always helped me.
the years, even in the early time when you were a secretary, did people
start to see you as a go-to person because of your connections and
for being in Building 37 for so long?
Fee: As the
years came by, yes. In the beginning you had to show people what you
were capable of doing. I did my job, then I would always try to go
do a little bit more. If I heard somebody say, “Wow, I really
need to get this done, I don’t know how I’m going to do
it,” I would ask, “Can I try?” I was always pushing
the envelope. “Let me go one step more, let me show you I can
do it.” It was like, “Can you do this?” “Sure,
I can do that.” I didn’t know how, but I went and learned.
figured it out, discovered a lot.
Fee: It really
wasn’t that complicated. I cheated a little on some aspects,
but just so that I could say I hadn’t done it but I knew I could
do it. Now if they said, “Can you go fly a plane?” Oh
no, can’t do that, not going to tell you I can.
me about being here as Building 37 became a building, and they started
to shape it to receive the aspects from the lunar mission. Were you
involved with being part of the astronaut quarantine facility, or
just here at that time when the lunar missions were going on?
Fee: The building
itself was built specifically for the Apollo lunar quarantine period.
It was three separate buildings butted up against one another. The
quarantine section had separate drainage, separate air handlers, separate
water system, all of that, because it got sealed up during the 21
days [of quarantine]. You did not know what you were going to encounter
going to the Moon, what you’d be bringing back. They wanted
to make sure that it did not get in the regular field.
It was an interesting time. I didn’t work for the section that
was responsible for quarantining the astronauts. I worked for medical
research and health stabilization, the prevention for that. When the
[Apollo 11] launch happened, we worked 24/7. You worked shift work,
you may have to work a little more than your eight hours. After the
quarantine then it relaxed and you had time to breathe, and you went
back on a normal cycle. But during quarantine, the 21 days, we had
the yellow and black quarantine flag flying out in front of the [side]walk.
You had a quarantine badge. It said Lunar Receiving Laboratory and
it had your name.
We had guards posted in the building. If you were a visitor you had
to be escorted by someone, you couldn’t just come into the building.
You didn’t have the capability of just going into any door,
you had certain doors you had to go in.
For the people that were in the quarantine, we had two copiers that
were built into the walls. One where they could put things on the
copier and the copies would come out on your side. Then you went down
a couple doors and you could get to another copier, if you needed
to get them material on the inside [of the quarantined section]. It
The conference room, it was separate. It had a half wall, a half glass
panel, and it had a microphone in the middle of it so that the medical
officers could come over and do a debrief with the crew, the press
could come over and ask questions, or the families could come over
and visit with their loved ones.
The outer door had a real big thick seal of wax all the way around
it. At the end of 21 days they peeled off all of this wax, and the
Center Director and the director of the astronaut corps were there
to peel off the wax and greet the crew as they came out. Then they
had a press conference right out in the front [of the building], where
some of the employees gathered around, and the center officials and
the press, to be able to ask them questions.
It was nice that the people that I worked for, the health stabilization
officers, would go out on the [recovery] aircraft to help with the
little trailer that they put the crew in once they recovered them,
and then transported them to the building.
I’ve got a lot of interesting souvenirs over the times. We would
get the [mission] envelopes to take down to Florida that were mailed
back, and then you got the aircraft mug with the mission [patch] printed
I think the Apollo days are the days that I enjoyed the most. They
were exciting. [A time of] the unknown, the uncertainty. It was the
type of missions that kept you on the edge of your seat, because NASA
was just starting out. No one knew what was going to happen, what
to expect. Later on, after so many Shuttle missions, it’s like
blasé. The enthusiasm and the excitement of the challenge was
not there. You’re going up, you’re doing research. Yes,
it’s all very interesting, it’s all very important, but
the awe-striking “gotcha” wasn’t there.
were you the night of the first lunar landing? Were you here working?
you really felt the excitement. Can you share with me what it was
like to know that they landed on the Moon and you were about to really
be a part of all?
Fee: We didn’t
have a television, but we had a radio so we were listening to it.
We were trying to look out the window. I remember that, trying to
look out the window, to see if we could see the Moon, “Can we
see them up there?” Everybody was sitting there, hovered around
the radio waiting for them to land. We were just glued. It’s
like frozen in time. “Here we are. Are they going to get it?
Are they going to land on there? Are they going to be able to take
off?” That was the other concern. Once they land can they come
were part of the group that saw them when they were put in this facility.
Tell me about that.
Fee: We didn’t
actually get to see them. They were brought here by their little trailers.
The whole west side over here near the dock was barricaded and guarded
with all kinds of security. They rolled up the doors and they brought
those trailers in. They were housed in here, and unless you had to
bring something into the conference room during one of the meetings
you didn’t see them. You did not see them until afterwards.
it that way for all of the Apollo missions? Or was it just for the
Fee: No, all
of the Apollo missions. They did all of them the same way.
that they were in the building but so far away. So close yet so far
Fee: It was.
But beforehand when they were doing all their medical testing and
bringing their samples—which invariably they always brought
at lunchtime. It’s one way to stay thin, [having to handle those]
stool and urine samples at lunch.
[the astronauts] were interesting, they were funny. They knew all
the people that I had worked with so they’d drop off [their
samples] and then go visit them. They weren’t like now, [which
is] unless you’re working one-on-one with them you don’t
get an opportunity to really see them. Occasionally they’ll
come by, in the last nine, ten years, come over to get their blood
drawn. But generally that would be done over at the Flight Medicine
Clinic over in Building 8.
guess it was a smaller, more of a close-knit community back then.
Fee: It was
more close-knit. Everybody looked out for one another. At the time,
I can remember Rufus [R.] Hessberg [Space Medicine Director] had come
down from [NASA] Headquarters [Washington, D.C.]. They were so adamant
about us staying in the building in case anything happened, or we
were needed for something, or the phones. They would go out and get
us hamburgers. There weren’t a lot of local areas for eating
as there are now. When I first started there was nothing but fields
surrounding the Center. You drove to Highway 3 and NASA [Road] 1,
up to the little stop sign, made your turn, and there was nothing
until you got to NASA.
They had the old Nassau Bay Hilton [hotel], which they tore down,
on the corner. It had a little cafeteria. Right down from it there
was a fish and chips place, then one hamburger stand. I don’t
even remember what kind of hamburger place it was. There weren’t
a lot of places the way there is now.
mentioned that you had planned to go to Lamar University. Did you
live in Beaumont at the time or were you living in the immediate area?
Fee: I lived
outside the area. I lived in Groves [Texas], it’s in between
Beaumont and Port Arthur. They call it the Golden Triangle.
you moved here once you got your full-time job and decided to stay
Fee: I moved
up here when I applied and they said, “You’ve got the
job. We need you to come up here and take your test.” I thought
oh, maybe I can just fail it, because I really don’t want to
leave Groves. I thought, “Well, it’s only for the summer,”
so okay. I was going to stay with my aunt, then go back. Then when
I got talked into staying, it was like “get your own place.”
had to be quite an adventure back in the ‘60s, being a single
woman and getting your own place in the area.
Fee: And fresh
out of high school. When you’re used to being in a small community,
outside of traveling out of state to go see relatives—there
was not much being away from home.
weren’t a lot of places to stay here either.
didn’t have multiple cars like they do now. The family had one
vehicle, and that was it. Families didn’t have all the air conditioning
the way they do now either. There’s a lot of changes just in
the air factor that people don’t realize, they take for granted.
There wasn’t all this electronics. Children’s imaginations
were always challenged, because they had to invent things to play
with and go outside. They were outside running and doing a lot more
than what they do now.
did you live? Did you end up in the Clear Lake area?
Fee: My aunt
lived in Dickinson. I moved to apartments over by the [William P.]
Hobby Airport because that was the airport at the time. It wasn’t
that far to drive down.
didn’t start working in Building 37, you started at Ellington.
When did you move?
Fee: At Ellington
we were in two buildings, 341 and 343. Then as the Center started
to build I moved into Building 16. I was there for maybe six or seven
months then I moved to Building 37.
talked briefly about how the building has changed because some of
the labs have been combined. Can you share with me other ways that
the building has changed physically, and with personnel? I’m
thinking that when you first came there wasn’t as much diversity
as you have now.
built the building up by knocking out some of the barrier walls, because
to get into this quarantine section where we’re at now there
was one entrance. There was that same entrance, exit to get back out.
You could not go down the hall and go all the way to the end of the
building. If you went further from the lobby down to the next main
hallway, that was the way to get into where all of the hard labs that
received the lunar material to do their testing. You had to don your
clothes, to get into all your lab gear, and then that was the way
to exit back. There was a guard posted there.
Of course if you pierced a glove or any of that, we had a big system
within the building where there were these big red buttons that were
punched for the alarm signal. You were told when you worked in this
building if you ever heard those alarms, the building will be sealed.
You would not exit until the quarantine period was over, for the sake
of we do not know what we’re bringing back. If plants are growing
very well, because we had a plant lab, then what else is in the soil?
We didn’t know at the time.
Fee: It was
interesting. I had two small sons, so [I remember thinking that if
something happened] they’ll just have to have family come take
care of them.
was going to ask. That’s quite a commitment to make, to work
in a building that you may be here for weeks if they had to seal the
Fee: But you
were told that if that happened—chances are it wouldn’t.
You just had to be aware that that was a condition. That was fine
you work at all with the rocks or with any of the samples?
were all in glass cases. We had a big vault where we had little vials
of lunar dust that were locked up. We had the log, then we had this
combination safe. They were kept in there, they were just tiny little
mentioned also they would have press conferences out on the front
[lawn]. Were you able to attend those?
they encouraged everybody that could be spared. You could go out on
the lawn and hear each of the crewmen speak through the PA [public
address] system to everyone. It wasn’t like a press conference
that you think of now where there are questions answered and asked.
It was the crew just relating their job well done and their statements,
like what they do at Ellington now [after Shuttle missions].
did your job change over the years? You said you took all the training
that you could, and you found that safety was something that you enjoyed
Fee: I worked
as an equal employment counselor and with the women’s committee.
One of the issues that we had was this old regime for secretaries.
They were just antiquated rules and regs [regulations] of a grading
[promotion] system. If you got to the division level, you were not
going any higher than a GS [General Schedule]-6 [government pay grade
system]. That was it. No ifs, ands or buts. Some of us worked on this,
this was unfair. You had good quality people, but you were losing
them because you weren’t giving them the salary that they were
Even the outside world was giving way more than what the government
workers were, contrary to what the outside taxpayers think about government
employees. That was one thing that I saw that happened.
I went from taking care of one branch level to taking care of two
branches, and then finally moving to a division level. I worked as
the division chief’s secretary. He was the chief medical officer.
I worked for him for 17 years. Then he moved over to Building 1, and
right after that retired.
I saw a couple other division chiefs come in. I had always been asking
and they kept saying, “Well, we’re going to get these
different jobs for you.” I wanted to stay in the same directorate
I was in. That was one of the conditions, I didn’t want to leave
the directorate. I probably could have applied for others, but I was
kind of stubborn. I wanted to stay where I knew all the folks because
I was happy here, they had done a lot for me.
So I didn’t apply for everything, but when there were positions
within the directorate that I was interested in, I applied for them.
I finally got to be administrative officer. At the time [Judith L.]
Judy Robinson [Associate director of Space and Life Sciences at JSC]
was in the directorate. That woman, no matter what category you were
in, was out to help and better all women. She was fantastic. We were
at a retreat and she says, “If you could have your wish”—because
I got talked into taking part-time facility manager work—“If
you could have your wish, and the magic fairy come through, what would
you prefer? Would you rather be an admin officer, or would you rather
be a facility manager?”
I said, “No question. Facility manager.” She said, “Well,
why?” I said, “Because it’s challenging, it’s
keeping something running. It’s never the same thing day after
day. I like challenges, and I like change. Some people probably don’t
like a lot of change, but I do. When you are the facility manager,
when you come in the building you may not even have time to drink
your coffee. If there’s a situation or a problem, you have to
be on the run. When you get to work you never know what’s going
to come at you.” So I said, “I’d rather have that.”
Then I got called over to Building 1. The next thing I knew they said,
“We need you to write a position description, because we’re
going to change your job.” It was like whoa, okay. Then the
next thing I know, a couple years after that personnel contacted me
and says, “We’re going to do a desk audit on you.”
So I was able to get a grade increase again, since I was maxed out,
because of the desk audit that they performed.
you feel like what had happened to you had helped change the grading
system for the rest of the secretary and administrative help?
it was all of the secretaries were changed. They changed the directorate
level, making them able to get a GS-7, and they changed the directorate
level grades. So it was not just me and my division, it was the whole
lot of those women had been in those positions a long time, hadn’t
Fee: For years.
A lot of them that got in the position moved on, they wanted more
work. A lot of them went to become admin officers. But a couple of
the ones that I knew said they really would have liked to have stayed
where they were, could they have gotten a grade increase. If all of
that had happened early years, might have been different.
to someone who didn’t experience the years of being a secretary,
and a branch secretary, and the chief medical officer’s secretary—I
don’t think people truly understand what that entails. I know
your days change every day when you walk in as a facility manager,
but it was never the same, a lot of times I’m sure, when you
were a secretary. You just had so many people you were responsible
Fee: It was
run the military way. You didn’t break chain of command. You
could be a secretary in the branch and take care of sections, because
they had sections, then they had branches, then they had the division.
So a branch secretary could not go to the division, the branch secretary
could not go to the directorate. The branch secretary went to the
next level up. If she was over a section, she went to the branch.
The branch then went to the division. The division then went to the
directorate. You never went above what they called the command.
When it first started off, you had procedures. There were certain
ways to do travel orders, back then it was all paper travel orders
with multiple carbon copies. There were cash advances, there was no
credit card system. You went over to Building 1 to the cashier to
get your travel advance. There were various forms. Everything was
forms, there was even a form if you needed to create a form. It was
just a lot of typing.
Then there were papers and journals. You had all of the forms, you
had to type these long papers. Sometimes if they had equations in
them, you had to change the key for the symbol key. It was constantly
taking these little keys off and on, off and on. Then if you typed
too fast the keys would go together and get stuck, so you had to take
them apart so you could get them to go back down. You couldn’t
type really fast. Then when the electric typewriter came out it was
like oh my goodness, this is a dream.
when the typewriter had the correction tape in it, where you could
backspace and it would correct it.
was later, that wasn’t the very first ones that came out. Later
on you had the little interchangeable balls. I don’t know what
was better, putting the key in or changing that ball and putting another
ball on. If you didn’t put it on right, boy, that ball would
go fwoo [rolling across the room].
Everything had to be letter-perfect. If it was being sent off the
Center, you couldn’t have erasures. So if you got down to the
very bottom and you had a typo, you had to rip that thing out of the
typewriter and start all over from scratch. You had to be not interrupted
if it was something like that, so that you could make sure. “Let
me get this right.”
had quite a group of personalities, I’m sure, that you worked
with as well, because you had so many different types of people. The
medical people and the science people, as you said the military background
were a multitude of personalities. Some were what we call difficult
people. I even took a training class about how to work with difficult
people. One individual—everybody termed him the hothead. The
first day we had an afternoon break and the instructor says, “Do
you work with him every day?” I said, “Yes.” He
said, “Why are you taking this class?” I thought uh-oh,
but you just had to be able to—everyone’s temperamental.
Physicians are different than researchers, they’re all different
than engineers. Everyone has different personalities. Military, they’re
men from women. When did you actually have a woman boss?
Fee: I had
a woman boss in the early ’90s.
must have been different.
Fee: A lot
of people weren’t so keen about wanting to work for a woman.
It doesn’t bother me. They have a different style. They’re
more focused on their agenda than getting off track like men do, because
men will do that. They’ll have a chain of thought, then it’s
like they get onto something else. Women that I’ve worked for,
they are focused. “Go down this path, I want to get this done,
then we go to the next.”
were your thoughts when you learned that the astronaut corps was going
to change and allow women to apply, and women scientists to apply?
Fee: I was
glad. As a matter of fact, the assistant division chief that I also
worked for is now the head of the astronaut crops.
Peggy [A. Whitson].
She was great to work for, she was. She gave you a lot of latitude
on doing your job. If you earned her trust, you had her trust.
only have a day and a half left in this building officially. What
are some of your most memorable thoughts and favorite memories of
Fee: I would
have to say Apollo 11 was the greatest time in my experience, just
because of all the challenges, the excitement. What a difference from
anything I have experienced since then. Everything was unknown, everything
was new. It was like a horse coming out of the gate, you didn’t
know where this horse was going to go. It’s like riding at night
with blinders on. It was interesting.
you’ve become facility manager, have you had a time that was
extremely challenging? You mentioned that when you walk in sometimes
you’ve got to hit the ground running, because you’ve got
to go deal with a problem.
we had a lot of pipes in the ceiling break, so you have to be familiar
with the mop. You have to know what’s going on in your laboratories
in order to know what type of equipment you have in there, because
when you get these types of situations you have to be able to protect
your equipment. Know what’s going on. Are they doing experiments?
At first it was a little rocky working with the maintenance and the
construction folks. It was like you’re not one of the guys,
you’re a woman. They will work for you and do what you tell
them, but they’re going to go to the man to convey all the stuff.
I had to learn to make them direct their statements and react to me.
I had to show them, “Hey, I know what I’m doing, do what
I ask.” Over time they learned, and I learned, and they were
great. I’ve had people in the building who want to remodel their
The very first job that I tackled was the clinical laboratories. The
clinical lab director had wanted for years—she had five different
rooms. She says, “I need one huge laboratory, because the equipment
is large, and we all need to be able to swap it around and change
stations, but they won’t let me knock out the walls.”
I said, “Why not?” She said, “Well, they say that
the walls are support walls.” I said, “Let me go in there
and look.” How can it be a support wall? There’s not even
any sheetrock all the way down to the floor, all it is is a chase.
You’ve got pipes and wires coming down. I said, “So why
not? “Let’s develop something.”
Then once that took off, then the other labs started coming to me.
“We want to remodel. How can we do this?” “Well,
what all do you need? Have you thought of…? Let’s do this.”
We’ve knocked out a lot of the 16-inch concrete walls to break
down small rooms to make it more advantageous for larger areas that
are more flow-efficient. They’re getting more space by knocking
out all these humongous walls, but they still have the flow within
the area where everybody’s still connected. We’ve remodeled
almost every one of the labs in this building.
I think one of the biggest challenges that I had was the pharmacology
lab. They were doing some FDA [Food and Drug Administration] studies,
and we have to have a separate air system and humidity control, because
we’ve got to be able to maintain this. We had a lot of meetings.
It took us a long time to be able to get the architects and what we
actually needed to be able to start the design phase of it. It took
about two years for that to actually happen.
going to feel safe in saying that probably nobody knows this building
as well as you do, inside and out?
everybody says I know the nooks and crannies. There are some places
that dead-end to nowhere, and that’s because the flow of the
building and the design has changed. Unfortunately it is a full-time
job keeping this building up because it’s just so antiquated.
I was fortunate enough that I got COD [Center Operations Directorate]
to refurbish two air handlers. One was a critical one over a big majority
of the laboratories. When they took out the coils and all the pipes
on that, it was so rusted that the coils were just crumbling. This
is the air that’s getting circulated with the condensate water
that you’re breathing in. It was horrible, everybody was commenting
how nasty it was.
There’s a lot of history. It’ll never go back to Apollo
days, because this was three separate buildings connected, trying
to build them as one and make them function as one, that’s just
taken a lot of money. It’s going to keep taking a lot of money
to keep this thing running because this was built in the ’60s.
It’s just like a house, you just really have to redo everything.
Before I started, whenever anyone remodeled they didn’t remove
the excess, so when I came in and had the labs redone, we had to gut
everything. You can pop the ceiling tiles, and you could not imagine
how many abandoned pipes and things are up there. It was just horrible.
When we did this last refurbishment of this air handler for this southwest
side, I went up there with them. They said, “We’ve got
this one pipe, but we can’t identify where it’s going
to. Can you help us? It’s not on the as-built drawings.”
We looked down into the chase. It’s not going to anyplace, cannot
find out where this is going to. It’s unrealistic of where it’s
showing that it’s going, there’s nothing there. So we
just shut it down thinking, “it’s probably something that
was abandoned, because it’s not even marked any longer.”
Well, lo and behold, it was to the two air handlers that are inside
the clinical lab.
That was unfortunately at a point where the valve had already been
sheared off, so the superintendent came over, got his workers together
and they brought us all these spot coolers to keep our labs going.
They immediately changed course and redesigned what they were going
to do. Instead of doing it all at once, they put in separate valves.
I said, “Please, whatever you do, do not leave today until you
mark this, so that somebody in the future knows what these pipes are
going to.” You would never have guessed that that was a pipe
leading to the air handlers from the location of where it was at.
We had to open the doorway to get from the Center over to the main
labs over here—all the nutrition labs, they have this 16-inch
concrete cinder block wall. Then they have this little gap and they
have this sheetrock wall over it. Well, when you pull out the concrete,
you don’t know what type of pipes and stands are coming in there,
so they started to remove the sheetrock wall. Lo and behold, there’s
an electrical raceway across the wall. Is it dead? No, it’s
live. Who in the world would have done that, you don’t bury
a live raceway in there.
I don’t know, I don’t do facilities stuff anymore. That’s
a nice feeling to be able to say that.
understand we have a basement.
Fee: We do.
For years—and to this day people still believe that we are keeping
the alien down there. Let me tell you, I’ve been there are a
multitude of times—and I will not lie to you—there are
no aliens in the Building 37 basement. It’s 90 feet. If that
elevator breaks, you are going to get one good cardio workout, and
I have done that.
it used for anything at all anymore?
now it’s used for storage. Back in the Apollo days it was used
for the radiation area. For a while the Science Directorate had a
low-level counting lab in there, which they’ve since removed.
A few years back we had the halon system released, when the fire techs
[technicians] were doing their bell testing. They’ve recently
put in the new system, but because the elevator is always going out,
it’s just used for storage. It was 90 feet down, you can’t
even get cell phone reception. There are no windows, there’s
no restroom down there. That’s just cruel to put somebody down
there. But everybody wants to go down. “We’ve always heard
about the Building 37 basement, we want to go down there.” What
for? It’s one big room with a long hallway that goes to a small
room. That’s it, that’s all you’re going to see.
ghosts, no aliens.
Fee: No. Then
a door going up to the stairs. You take them down there and it’s,
“Oh, is this it?” This is it, the grand tour.
like you grew up with NASA, you came here when it was so new. Now
it’s celebrated 50 years and you’ve been with it for almost
that entire time. What do you think you’re going to miss the
Fee: I think
the excitement and the people. It’s been exciting. It’s
been interesting to watch how NASA has changed, it’s different.
I don’t think it has registered that I’m retiring, because
I’m still doing things and meeting with people. Wednesday [November
30, 2011] will be my last day, and I think Thursday morning it’s
going to hit me. I’ve tried not to get emotional. It’s
like no, no tears. This is not a sad occasion. It’s sad in the
fact that you’re not going to get to see me, but you have my
phone number, you can always call me. 45 years. I’ve earned
this, it’s time for me to rest.
In the economic times that we’re in right now, there are a lot
of people without jobs. There are a lot of young people with young
families. I’ve had my turn, I’m going to do okay. It’s
time for others to come in to be able to get a job, and be able to
get a rewarding satisfaction of saying, “I’ve been with
NASA 40 years, 45 years, 30 years.”
NASA has been a great place to work. I’m so glad that I did
not say, “You all don’t know what you’re talking
about, I’m going to college.”
a different life you would have had.
no telling what I would be doing now. So hindsight—they knew
what was best for me.
time is almost up. Are there other memories you would like to share
before we close?
Fee: No, I
think we’ve covered everything. It’s a great place for
people to work. It’s exciting. I told them if we ever get a
new building to replace 37, they have got to call me. I’ve been
hearing since the ’70s that they’re going to replace 37
and I’ve yet to see it. I would like to see that. I would like
to be able to see us go to Mars or go back to the Moon. I think there’s
a lot more that we could have done on the Moon than just go to it,
and I think that we have the capability now to do that. I would like
to see that happen.
we close, I wanted to ask you about the recent [Apollo 11 lunar landing
40th] anniversary. You had the plaques made that identify the different
aspects of the [history of the] building, then you hosted the event,
inviting the Apollo astronauts to come.
Fee: We had
two, we had [Neil A.] Armstrong and we had [Edwin E. “Buzz”]
a celebration you had in the building.
Fee: We had
a lot of the medical officers that were here during that time, and
the science people that were here that took care of the rocks. That
was fun. It was really interesting to see how we’ve all wrinkled
and grayed. But yes, we had one afternoon. It was a dedication ceremony
[June 10, 2010]. We had the plaques that are throughout the southwest
side to indicate where the crew was brought in, where the Moon rocks
were brought in, where the crew reception area, where they ate and
watched television, where they slept. Then the infamous Conference
Room 1 where they gave their debriefs and met with their families.
glad that didn’t happen after you left, that you got to be part
of all of that.
they needed me out in the lobby, because no one else was here to remember
who the people were. It’s like everybody that attended, I had
worked for and they’ve retired. When they come back for a visit,
they come in and stop and see me. I have told them, “I’m
going to retire. You all are not going to have anybody left to come
say hello to.”
know it was probably a good comfort to them to know you were here
still taking care of the building. Thanks so much for squeezing this
session in your departure schedule, and I wish you the best of luck
with all your new adventures.
Fee: I know
everybody keeps saying, “You can’t just stop working,
you got to go out and do something.” I need to rest for a while,
let me just see what happens. I’ve got a lot of things that
I’m behind on at the house, so I’ve got plenty to keep
me going for a while.
sure you’ll find lots to do. Thanks again.